CAPE TOWN, South Africa – Eleven New York Air National Guard firefighters spent two weeks learning how to battle brush fires with 60 South African firefighters in a training program run by South African National Parks at Table Mountain National Park.
The Americans, members of the 109th Airlift Wing based at Stratton Air National Guard Base outside Schenectady, New York, were there in a training exchange as part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program.
New York has had a partnership with the South African National Defence Forces since 2003.
It’s the second time this year that New York Air National Guard firefighters have visited South Africa to train with South African fire teams.
In May, Airmen from the 106th Rescue Wing based at Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach trained with South African National Parks firefighting crews.
The New York Guard members learned a lot of lessons from their South African counterparts, said Senior Master Sgt. Lloyd Hale.
“Working with our Table Mountain Fire Department counterparts was highly beneficial,” Hale said. “It was a great chance to learn and share best practices, techniques and training methods,” he added.
South African firefighters from Working on Fire, a South African national firefighting organization; Nature Conservation Corporation Environmental Services; and the Cape Peninsula Fire Protection Association took part in the training.
Participants focused on understanding the Incident Command System (ICS) and its standardized approach to the command, control and coordination of emergency response.
In addition, significant time was spent discussing how best to predict, prevent and assist with wildfires and how to best improve the knowledge base for the implementation of integrated fire management and coordination strategies.
The training culminated in an exercise showcasing shared capabilities that included how to lay out the hose when fighting a fire, aerial water assaults and clearing and beating out a fire.
“It was a great experience to be part of an international partnership and to be able to learn from other firefighters as well as show them what we are capable of,” said Staff Sgt. Jodi Ruther.
Ruther said she was also pleased to see South African women participating in the firefighting training.
“Hopefully, encouraging more women to join firefighting will show that we are just as capable as the men in the world of wildland firefighting,” she added.
The New Yorkers learned new wildland firefighting techniques from the South Africans, said Tech Sgt. Christopher Meyer.
South Africa has experienced numerous ferocious fire seasons since 2017.
According to the Western Cape Umbrella Fire Association, over 320,000 acres have been destroyed by fires and thousands of people have been displaced.
Previous years have also produced very little rainfall, culminating in severe droughts – making a local plant called the fynbos more vulnerable to catching fire.
During the annual South African-United States Defense Committee Meeting held in November, the participants decided to develop a memorandum of understanding that would allow South Africa to request training and assistance from New York National Guard firefighters to battle wildfires.
The proposed agreement would also provide for South African firefighters lending aid in the United States.
Sending New York Air National Guard firefighters to the South African training course helps pave the way for that support.
“It’s invaluable that the South African and New York Air National Guard firefighters could come together to share ideas and information while working side-by-side to learn new techniques and practices to achieve the same goals of protecting life, property and the environment,” said Senior Airman A. Clemente.